Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving week - the truly rich

Do we consider ourselves rich? Or poor? Do we struggle to make ends meet, or are we comfortable?
So many of us are wealthier than we realize. When we compare our lives with those who truly don't know where the next meal is coming from, or even if there will be a meal, we are blessed beyond measure. When we snuggle under our quilt and sleep, there are many who shiver under cardboard.

Christ told us that the poor "would always be" with us, and He commanded us to tend to His lambs. James' letter encourages us to pay attention to those who are in need of food or clothing. Poverty was a crippling thing in the time of the New Testament church, and it still is now. We should look for ways to assist those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;    their righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God.... (II Corinthians 9:7-13a) 
Wait a minute. This is good. This is right. But are we missing something?
Should we be concerned about the rich, too?
Quit shaking your heads.....I'm not totally bonkers here!
Jesus said that it's very difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. He said that those who love their life too much find it hard to lose it. James reminded his readers that it was the rich who dragged them into court; and the word "miser" is the root of the word "miserable."
The love of money isn't just the source of evil, but it can contribute to depression and dissatisfaction as well!

Doesn't that mean that the rich have just as many spiritual needs as the poor? Who will tell them of Christ? Who will train them to cheerfully give their wealth to others? Who will teach them to stop keeping score in who is richer than whom? Who will urge them to help at the soup kitchens? To assist with a clothing drive?

Imagine with me, if you will, how many millions of people will be making a trip this week, home to family and friends. A turkey or ham in the middle of the table, and wonderful side dishes surround it. There will be many who talk about their lives and share and catch up....they'll focus on what they do to keep their lives going and cover up that big unfulfilled whole inside of them.
Some will spend a few minutes at the table saying how thankful they are; that they are glad to have their health; that they are glad to be with family. Then they will eat their meal, stare with glazed eyes at a football game, or fall asleep. Some may try to avoid certain hurtful subjects, get annoyed, or even have a row and shout at each other.

Or, if we are truly rich, there will be genuine thanks,heartfelt prayers, true giving, and worship of the Father God Who has blessed us so abundantly.
although saddened, we are always glad; we seem poor, but we make many people rich; we seem to have nothing, yet we really possess everything. (II Corinthians 6:10) 
I'd like to challenge all of us this week (including our friends in other countries....I know that this is the United States' Thanksgiving week, not y'alls!) to take the love of Christ with us to the poor and to the ones who seem wealthy. While you're all together, figure out a way that your crew can do something for the impoverished. Find a soup kitchen and help serve a meal. Go through the closets and find warm clothes and blankets to donate. Take a stint at a bell-ringer post and wish everyone a Christ-filled Christmas. Go through the pantry and pull together the largest donation you can for the local community assistance group.  While we're at it, this makes an excellent time to share our testimony of love, redemption, and blessings from Jesus.

I promise, our Thanksgiving will not only be full of good food, and warmth, but also full of comfort, peace, and joy in our Savior.
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving    and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God,    the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth,    and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it,    and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship,    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care. (Psalm 95:1-7)

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all! We'll be back next week for more studies! 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday slowdown

We mentioned this song this week; I thought it might be an appropriate way to end our week of study.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Responses to His wondrous love, conclusion

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (I John 4:11)
(Hear that claxon horn? That's a's a band-aid alert! The Spirit really got my toes on this study, and He may be speaking to you, today, too. Just sayin'.)

Now that we know what wondrous love is; and now that we've been compelled to love Him by putting Him first in our lives.....that should also change how we operate in our relationships with others. Like we said before, that means we show love to Mr. McCranky, and Tommy Whinesalot, and many others!
Before we met Jesus, and before we understood what real, wondrous love looked like, our love for others may have been based on a lack of real understanding. Our love for others may have been conditional ("I love you if you do this and this for me." Or, "I love you if you change to be what I think you should be.").
Or our love for others may have only been reciprocating ("I love you if you are loving toward me.")
It may even have been based only in feelings ("It's rainy; it's Monday; and I had a fight with my kiddos over their curfew; I don't feel like being loving toward others today.")

Anyone nodding their heads at some of those?
Now, since we are believers, our love for others needs to be based in the kind of love that we have experienced from God.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (I John 3:16-18)
It struck me as I studied that John wasn't just referring to the cross when he wrote about Jesus laying down His life. Maybe that was already evident to you, but it hit me afresh and anew....
It wasn't just His death on the cross. It was also His dying to self -- on a daily basis.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)
Taking up our cross means putting our "self" aside. Dying to self. That is what Jesus did; He humbled Himself and washed feet. He said that He came to serve and give His life as a ransom.
We've mentioned before how flippantly "love" is used today; like the soup when we try to stretch it to feed more people, it's watered down! The same word we use to describe how we feel about our precious children is the same one we use to describe the pumpkin-cinnamon muffin we had for breakfast.  I'm sure that all of you already know about the three Greek words for "love:" agape (parent and child), phileo (brotherly/friend), and eros (husband and wife).
Agape love is the love that God shows to us. And that is the love that needs to be what we show to others -- it needs to be what we strive for in our earthly relationships.
Agape love is deep. It's sacrificial. It's unconditional.
And John is telling us too, that love is a verb. It's an action word, like we mentioned a couple of days ago. We can tell others "I love you" but if it is real? We will be showing them. How? By how patient we are with others, how forgiving we are, how generous we are, how much we are willing to be inconvenienced, and more. In short, it will show in how well we are doing at living what we call the Golden Rule.
Showing love in this way is very different from making donations and doing good deeds. We can pretend to be generous and we can rack up loads of good the eyes of the world we can be super-awesome-good folks. But in the eyes of God, have we done anything at all?
To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:33)

If our service isn't done in love, perhaps God is not pleased, but disgusted. In the Old Testament, and in the New (I'm thinking of Revelation, too) there are references to God's displeasure over religious activities wrongly motivated, and over lukewarm devotion, too.

Wondrous love motivates a response to love and serve Him; it motivates a desire to love and serve others; dying daily to self is not optional. I found two quotes that seemed really appropriate as I studied. William Barclay was a Scottish theologian (love it when I find something awesome in my heritage!):
More people have been brought into the church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world, and more people have been driven from the church by the hardness and ugliness of so-called Christianity than by all the doubts of the world.
Love always involves responsibility, and love always involves sacrifice. And we do not really love Christ unless we are prepared to face His task and take up His cross.  William Barclay
Love will be the most convincing factor in winning someone to Christ. Our loving response to His love is so important. In the words of a song, "What's love got to do with it?"
Everything. Just everything.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Responding to His wondrous love -- now

We've been studying about God's wondrous love, and about our response to it. Today we'll see that we should respond!

Our God is an active God. He is at work in our lives always....encouraging, inviting, directing, and guiding. He pours out His love for us in blessings each day.
Our response to God's wondrous love should happen now. We should not be inhibited by our own weakness, or by past failures. We should not be discouraged, and dwell on our unworthiness.

Jesus showed us this when He called the first disciples. Remember the scene at the Sea of Galilee, when Peter and his men had been fishing and had not caught anything? In fact, he had been so singularly unsuccessful that he had given up and was going to come back in to shore. Jesus directed Peter and the others to cast those nets right in the same place where they'd had no luck at Peter did, and immediately found the nets straining to the breaking point with a huge number of fish! Jesus, after showing him this sign of his calling, tells Peter to follow Him.

Does Peter cast cares to the wind and joyfully agree?
He immediately raises the ole "unworthy" objection. (Don't many of us use this one nowadays?)
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
Ummmm, well, yes, that's true.
But Jesus doesn't pay any attention to that truth.....
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  (Luke 5:10b)
In fact, we are familiar with the fact that Jesus surrounded Himself with sinners. Remember when He called Matthew? Matthew was a tax collector; as such, he was an agent of the hated Romans, and people hated him just as much as they hated the Romans. Why? Well, he made his living prying money out of the hands of destitute peasants! And he may have been like some of the tax collectors who over-taxed and then kept some for themselves.....we don't know for sure. Jesus met Matthew sitting at his counting table and said very simply, "Follow me." That unworthy sinner responded by getting up from the table and following Jesus.
Matthew was happy with his new life, and threw a nice party to celebrate -- he invited all of his old friends to come and meet his new Friend. Well, those ole busy-bodies, the Pharisees, objected and Jesus replied:
 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mark 2:17)

We see very plainly that Jesus entered into people's lives and invited them to follow Him....right from where He found them. In boats, working with fishnets, from tax desks, and other places, too. And there is something really wonderful for us to notice there: He doesn't demand that they do anything first. He doesn't say that first they need to go to church (the synagogue).
And we shouldn't think that we need to delay our response to God until we deal with our character defects. We don't need to have a scorecard that we keep that shows we've been a pretty good kid for a certain length of time first....then follow Him. Yes, we are unworthy. Yes, we are sinful. But He pours that wondrous love over us and into us, and we are ready to respond to Him.

Will we fall down?
Will we fail Him?
But our response to Him grows and matures. It deepens over time. Our salvation is a process -- not a one time event.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he fed them milk, not solid food, because they were not able to take it. (I Corinthians 3:2) And so we know that God will give us what we need; if we are beginners, or if our hearts are troubled or weak, He will give us milk. Later on, we will receive solid food.
But all along the path, we will be answering His call to follow Him.
You see, it doesn't matter if we think we are unworthy. He sees us as His children, worthy of His love and His sacrifice on the cross.
And we don't need to worry about "doing" anything in particular. Following Him doesn't automatically mean that we'll be heading off to Zanzibar, or a jungle mission, or anywhere else. Sometimes it just means that we'll be watching. And waiting. And listening.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,    as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,so our eyes look to the Lord our God,    till he shows us his mercy. (Psalm 123:2)
Please don't get me wrong here, when you read the verse above. We are not slaves to our God -- we are willing and cheerful in our voluntary service to Him. That service arises from that fire that we mentioned last time -- a desire to be like Him, and to serve Him, because of His love to us. I showed that verse because that attentiveness is how we should watch and wait for His guidance.

Perhaps the question that most embodies our response to God, is "what more does God want of me?" We love a God Who loves us without limits....we love Him in return. What more can we do to love Him? The rich young man in the Gospels asked Jesus that.....he wanted to do MORE. Jesus looked at him and loved him, and said to get rid of his possessions and follow.
Jesus was challenging the young man to be free of what he claimed as his own.
He challenges us, too. What do we call "ours"? What do we cling to? It may be our worldly possessions. It may be our ideas. It may be our desires. (If we put any of these in front of God, they have become an idol.....we need to be free.)
God calls us to offer these things to Him. That doesn't mean He will take them away. When we offer them to God, He may shape and form them and use them for His purposes. We may receive them back as tools to use in His kingdom.

He looks on us with love. What more can we do to respond to His love? Now?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Verses that inspire

As I have been studying for this series, I have come across a couple of verses that I'm sure are familiar to you, but I wanted to point you to them yet again!
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  (I John 4:16)
What an awesome promise, and also an awesome responsibility!
This is how it happens:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
We know with our heads that He loves us, no?
But does the devil sometimes get a hold of us and shake us like a tea towel? Make us doubt?
We need to believe the love of God for our lives.....
Let me explain:
God loves us more than we can imagine. We are His children! The first thing that we need to do is to actually receive His love -- every single day.
We need to stop putting up little walls that prevent us from receiving His love. Satan will try his hardest to make us fall for the "God is angry with you because you have failed. You've sinned." Then we kinda put God in a box and say well, He might love us, but not in His complete fullness kind of way. We just can't believe that He wants to love us completely, fully, pour out His love on us.
Because we can't fully comprehend the love of God, we need to really dive into prayer and a quiet time each day. Don't limit the time we spend with Him, just like we shouldn't limit His love for us. Sit in His presence and allow Him to speak, to comfort, to give us His peace.
We will find that we understand more and more about His love, and we will see His blessings in our daily walk. We will recognize all the things He does for us during the day.

Believe that God loves you. He is within us as believers. When we love God with our entire being, we will allow Him to lead us, and we'll become the self-giving people that place others before ourselves. We will lay down our lives and let Him live through us -- and I'm warning you, be ready! He will use us in ways that we could never imagine, if we will allow Him.

If we will believe that He loves us, and that He lives within us.

Has a verse inspired, comforted, or convicted you recently? Will you leave a comment to tell others?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Responding to wondrous love

Last week we concentrated on God's wondrous, (to be marveled at, according to the dictionary definition of wondrous) love for us.
What should our response to that love be? We discussed His amazing commandment, and how we should emulate His unmatched, sacrificial love for those undeserving of it (us).

How about our relationship with this loving God? What should our response be to Him?

What can we do?
And then, when we've done that, what more can we do?
Let me explain what I mean..... I do NOT mean that there are any works we can do to deserve His wondrous love. We've covered that before, so as my grandma used to say, we don't need to re-plow that ground. (Grin)

When we accept His wondrous love, it should light a fire! Look at what Paul tells us:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (II Corinthians 5:14-15)
Whatcha think about that word, "compel"?
Merriam Webster: "to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly," for example, "Hunger compelled him to eat."
Paul is highlighting the fact that because of Jesus' love, and what He did for us, there should be a response. If we understand the love behind that sacrifice, and we truly understand our opportunity to escape depravity here on earth, and destruction in eternity, then we will be compelled.  Oh, it may take a while for us to really grasp the depth of what He did for understand that what He went through is something that no one could have done for us.
We've been rescued.
Adopted into the family of God.
That should light a fire in us that drives us to do everything we can to please Him!

Out of a sense of duty, or obligation?
A fear of the consequences of our refusal?
No way.
Our devotion, our love, our obedience need to well up from our love for God. If it is from any of those other reasons, it will be a "flash in the pan."
Here's what I mean: many, many years ago, those upstart colonists here in what came to be called North America used flintlock muskets. Those guns had tiny receptacles that held charges of gunpowder. Any attempt to fire the musket in which the gunpowder flared up, but no round was fired, was called a "flash in the pan."  Prospectors later used the phrase to describe something in their pan which glinted momentarily, but proved not to be real gold.
Either way, if our devotion to God is motivated by the wrong reasons, our obedience and our fervor will be won't result in any real value as far as service to'll be a flash in the pan.
There is a contemporary Christian song that says these words:
“Give me rules, I will break them. Show me lines, I will cross them. I need more than a truth to believe, I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes; to sweep me off my feet. It's gotta be more like falling in love, than something to believe in. More like losing my heart, than giving my allegiance. Caught up, called out; come take a look at me now. It's like I'm falling; it's like I'm falling in love.Give me words, I'll misuse them. Obligations, I'll misplace them. Cause all religion ever made of me was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet. It never set me free. It was love that made me a believer in more than a name, faith, or creed. Falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me.” (Jason Gray)
There's truth there: our response to God needs to be based in our love for God. We don't need to question His love. We don't need to worry about that. He has loved us from the beginning. What we need to be looking at is this: what is our response to Him built on? If it is built on anything other than love, it won't stand the test of time.
Are we Christians just to escape the flames of hell?
Are we believers because of what we think we can get from God?
Do we think God is great until life gets tough, and then we wonder if we want to continue to serve a God Who allows these things to happen?
If any of those are true, our relationship with God is based on feelings.
Not our real, grateful, loving response to His wondrous love.
Love doesn't change with varying circumstances. It's constant. We might not like our circumstances, and we might even be upset with God over them! But if we love Him, then we will stay with God, because we know He loves us all the time.
We will love what God loves, and hate what He hates. We will be zealous for the cause of Christ, and we will have that fire lit within us to love Him and tell others about Him.
Perhaps each of us should examine our lives in our quiet time, and make certain that our response to Him is motivated by love.....the "right" response to His wondrous love.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wondrous love, IV

Yesterday we closed with the knowledge that our hearts need transforming. Total repair. Whether we are a "rookie" believer or a "veteran," we need daily to ask for His transforming power.

Let's look again at John 13..... I think our focus needs to be on "just as I have loved you."
What was Jesus' ultimate act of love?
Was it humbling Himself and washing the disciples' feet?
Serving the meal?
His ultimate act of love is one that will melt the most hardened heart, and leads a person away from self and towards God. His act of love is when His arms are open on Golgotha, and He looks down at the wriggling, writhing, dirty masses of people on the hill; some are spitting at Him, some jeering; He looks at them (and at you and me) and says, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." Then He selflessly shoulders the sin of all of us, and faces the wrath of God for those sins....He dies in our place so that we can have eternal life.

This moves me to tears as I consider the wondrous love that sought me when I was still a sinner.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:9-10)
We didn't love God and really didn't know what love looked like, until God showed us. The world is sinful, and an enemy of God; we can't love Him until we are born again, and then the Spirit living in us enables us to love Him and one another, too.
God loved us. Sinful. Turn that word around: full of sin. Brimming over, flowing out. And God loved those who didn't love Him (and still does). That is the most extreme sense of love -- that is wondrous love! That is Who God is.
That's not the case in other religions, did you know that?  Check out our Bible, the word "love" occurs over 500 times.  In the Koran? Less than 100, and most of those times it is referring to man's love for things, or referring to mankind's love for each other. There's not a lot there about God's love for man.
And when you do see a reference to God's love in the Koran, it only talks about God's love for certain people.....only those who do what is right, or those who love him.  The Koran's god is no better than man. Here is why, in the words of our Savior:
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:32-35)
So the Koran falls short of showing us the essence of wondrous love.
Wondrous love is what God showed us: pure love. It's unconditional, undeserved, and unmatched. God showed selfless love in letting Jesus go -- He let His Son leave His side in the glories of heaven, and Jesus came to earth. They both knew what was going to happen to Him, and it is all for our benefit.
Jesus showed us unmatched love when He was willing to be tortured, killed, and spiritually separated briefly from the Father, so that we could be born again -- and we would not have to face the spiritual death that He suffered to pay our sin penalty.

No greater example could have been offered, than that of God's sacrificial love, in sending His Son as an atoning sacrifice. Jesus showed us wondrous love, too, when He died for us.

When we love someone and pour ourselves out for them; when we sacrifice for them; when we show them love that they don't deserve, it can melt that person's heart. It can change them, because they want to love in return.
Many of us who study here have known such love, and rejoice in it each day. Some of us may still be searching for wondrous love. Oh, there is no need for us to look any further than the cross....look no further than the One Who pours out His life for us.
Look no further than Jesus, the God Who came to earth -- because He wants us to live with Him for eternity! We were created by Him, and through Him we're redeemed and made a part of the family of God. Through Him, too, we find strength and desire to love like He loved.
This is what we mean when we talk of transforming our hearts.
This is how His commandment will be fulfilled. We will begin to love one another as He loved us, when we truly see what He has done for us.

When we see His wondrous love.